Law Professor Barry Scheck, a key founder of the Innocence Project based in New York that launched a nationwide initiative to free the wrongly incarcerated, will speak at a fundraiser for the Hawai‘i Innocence Project on January 13.
Ira Rosen, a producer for the “60 Minutes” investigative television program, will also make remarks about the criminal justice system. Additionally, exonerees Brian Banks (left) and Uriah Courtney (below) will share their experiences. Banks, a former rising football star, was freed in 2012 after serving five years in prison. Courtney was exonerated in 2013 after eight years in prison.
Tickets are still available for the fundraiser at Café Julia at the downtown YWCA at 1040 Richards St. from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the Hawai‘i State Bar Foundation. Proceeds from the event will help cover the extensive costs associated with representing the wrongfully convicted in Hawai‘i, proving their innocence, and gaining their freedom.
The Hawai‘i Innocence Project, part of the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawai‘i, is one of many such non-profits throughout the country that have helped free hundreds of unjustly accused prisoners, often through the use of sophisticated DNA evidence.
Innocence Projects in 37 states have freed more than 330 individuals using DNA evidence alone. It was Scheck, now a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York, who was primarily responsible for setting the standards for the forensic application of DNA technology as far back as 1988.
Under the direction of Associate Law Dean Ronette M. Kawakami ’85, and Associate Faculty Specialist Kenneth Lawson, the Hawai‘i Innocence Project has been incorporated into the Law School curriculum, allowing law students to research and investigate the wrongful conviction claims of Hawai‘i prisoners.
Through the work of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, for example, Alvin Jardine of Maui was freed in 2011 after spending 20 years in prison for a rape and burglary he did not commit. When advanced DNA evidence showed that Jardine was not the perpetrator, a Maui Circuit Court judge overturned his conviction.
The leadership of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project expects to take on a larger load of cases. They will utilize Kawakami’s background as a public defender in felony jury trials and Lawson’s past experience as a criminal lawyer and his powerful personal teaching message. Lawson’s work focuses on classroom material and working with students.
In helping lead the Hawai‘i Innocence Project, Lawson speaks of the importance of introducing law students to this work. “I can teach you law, but I can’t teach you how to feel, how to care, and how to stand up for someone who has been wrongfully accused,” he tells students. “If you don’t care about your client, why should the judge care? Why should the jury care? You, as their attorney, have to make them care. No one was born being a bad person.”
The HIP includes a number of Law School adjunct faculty who also help teach the clinic. They include leading criminal law attorneys Susan Arnett, Bill Harrison, and Brook Hart, and DNA expert David Haymer.
In February 2016, former Ohio prisoner Ricky Jackson was the honored guest of the Hawai‘i Innocence Project’s first fundraising gala. Jackson, who was freed in 2014 after being behind bars for 39 years, has the dubious distinction of being the exonerated innocent man incarcerated longer than any other person in the United States.